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New lives sprout here
New nonprofit hopes to empower area refugees

 Nizigiyimana Danifodi transfers a tomato seedling into the dirt of Munira Marlowe's Spotsylvania County garden.
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Date published: 7/12/2009

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE

Nzeyimana Jackson's two paychecks cover the rent on his Olde Forge townhouse.

But they don't put food on the table. Not literally, at least.

He's doing that with his own hands, and some help from a new local agency headed by a Spotsylvania County woman who sees helping refugees as her mission in life.

The Imani Multicultural Center opened for business in late May and aims to support area refugees in simple but long-lasting ways--such as creating a garden for a refugee wanting to get his hands dirty and grow his own food.

Jackson, a Burundian refugee, says he feels lucky to wash dishes and work for a local construction company. After all, he arrived in the Fredericksburg area last summer during a recession.

But he supported his family by farming as a refugee in Tanzania, and loves to grow vegetables. He has planted more than 1,000 tomato seedlings in newly tilled quarter-acre garden at the Spotsylvania County home of Munira Marlowe.

The garden is one of the first projects for Marlowe's new refugee aid agency, the Imani center.

The Kenya native first dreamed of the nonprofit while working as a resettlement director for the Arlington Diocese's Office of Refugee Resettlement. She took pride in finding jobs for nearly every refugee who came through her door in two years as director.

But Marlowe saw other, more complex needs. She wished for another group, with people to step in and help the refugees acclimate.

Marlowe left her job as resettlement director in 2008 to work with a counseling center on helping refugee teens emotionally. But that program ended in March.

Marlowe contemplated returning to the corporate world, where she worked before entering the realm of refugees.

Her heart wasn't in sales. So Marlowe, a Muslim who felt God was calling her to work with refugees, took a leap of faith.

MOUNTING OBSTACLES

On May 31, Marlowe kicked off Imani with a large gathering at a Dahlgren marina. Sitting on the edge of the Potomac River, she faced about 75 guests representing different organizations, nationalities and religions.


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Munira Marlowe has big dreams for her fledgling nonprofit. She'd love to expand her garden, sponsor refugees for job training, have classes in American culture and English for speakers of other languages, host multicultural parties and offer job-search help.

For now the new nonprofit has a long list of needs, including:

15-passenger van

Computers

Drywall

Paint

Volunteers who can provide transportation and help with renovation and teaching.

For details, e-mail munira@imanimulticulturalcenter.org or call 540/308-3730.

The refugees in Fredericksburg have been determined by the U.S. government to face persecution in their home countries on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They are allowed to live in the United States indefinitely to protect them. Refugees get their status before coming to America, while asylum seekers obtain their status after arrival. Refugees may eventually get green cards.